HUMAN DIVERSITY, RELIGIOUS HATE AND DEMOGRAPHIC TRENDS IN SRI LANKA PART 1
Posted on July 2nd, 2019

BY EDWARD THEOPHILUS

Archaeological discoveries in Sri Lanka have proven that human settlements had been in the country since prehistoric era and the country had a long history of living humans who were at the civilized level or not.  Archaeologists and anthropologists attempted to give a clear picture of the beginning humans based on the traces in the country and the historical evidence also give conflicting views on the ancient population of Sri Lanka. The conflicting opinion seems to be concerned with the ethnic identity and it also appears that conflicting views of ethnic identity have involved in political beliefs of historical analysts.  My focus of this article is to mainly consider the demographical trends related issues in Sri Lanka.  Current Sri Lanka has misunderstandings about the population structure, its trend, and the patterns of growth.  The statistics published in this article are official statistics of the population of Sri Lanka which were published by the Census and Statistics Department and they are reliable statistics found from official census with less than 0.05% of errors.  Before I enter to the focus, I would like to discuss in brief, some controversial issues in relation to ethnic identity and some significant historical factors that had been influenced to the shape of the population of Sri Lanka.

According to historical evidence given in the Mahavansa, the ethnic group of Sinhala began with effect from the arrival of Vijaya and his associates but historical evidence in the same book confirms that there were groups of humans called Devils in the country, when Vijaya embarked (Please read Chapter 1, the Visit of the Thathagatha in Mahavansa).  Further, the Mahavansa described that when Lord Buddha visited the country there were other groups of humans called Nagas and Devas. When we read the book, a doubt creates in our minds whether so-called devils and nagas or devas were humans or animals or spirits of real devils. If so-called devils were demons, they were supposed to exist in all over the world in terms of general beliefs of people, not only in Sri Lanka according to religious mythology.  The book further indicates that human arrived under the leadership of Vijaya and the group of Vijaya associated with devils.  As a result of this union, a mixed-race people were originated in the country, they were called Sinhala.  My understanding is that so-called devils, nagas, and devas were humans, but they were religiously associated with the worship of devils, cobras, and Gods. The diversity of population had existed in Sri Lanka since the beginning of settlements in the country. The settlements don’t mean that the beginning of a new civilization and a culture after the embarkation of Vijaya and his followers but people who settled before them had a civilization and a culture and Vijaya and his associate mixing with domestic people open for a new civilization and a culture.

The significant point we need to consider is that Sri Lanka was not an empty land (Terra Nolias) when Vijaya and his associates embarked to the country.  Whatever the religious beliefs people had, there were humans in the country and the arrival of Vijaya and his associates subjected to alloying with existed people and to generate new groups of people, they were called Sinhala.  There is an international wide story that a King called Ravana ruled the country with a large human population and the devils, who were described in the Mahavansa would have related to them. The rule and the stories of Ravana have a historical controversy and some historians claim that Lanka of Ravana was not Sri Lanka, where we called now.  When we think in that line, indigenous people of Sri Lanka were a community mixed with ancient humans and the group of Vijaya.

There is another issue relates to the beginning of Sinhala race. The historic book, the Mahavansa attempted to interpret the ethnic group (Sinhala) began from a lady Suppa Devi who was forcefully eloped by Sinha (Lion), while she was going with cart traders. Suppa Devi was born to a couple, Princes of Kalinga who married to a Wanga King.  Two kids were born to Suppa Devi, they were named as Sinhabahu and Sinhasevali and Sinhabahu killed his father Sinha and build a city called Sinhapura where was the origin of Vijay and associates.  Archaeological researchers found that there was a town called Sinhapura in the Orissa Province in India. However, there is a clear doubt whether Sinha was a lion (animal) or a human called Sinha, which means according to the Sinhala language is a Strongman. (This Sinha name widely used in India and the former Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka also got the same name) The biological truth leads us to assume that Sinha was not an animal but a human who was named as Sinha based on his characteristics and the behaviour.  Recently I read a book titled The People of The Lion”, which was published by Verite Research Organization in Colombo.  The book is mainly focused on a debate in relation to the people of the lion, between Prof RALH Gunawardane and Prof KNO Dharmadasa. Many interesting points were discussed in the book, but they were not authentic facts because no archaeological evidence has found in relation to the arguments.  The debate leads us to further thinking and investigation requirements based on various assumptions on this matter.

When we read many historical books in Sri Lanka, they help us to understand a significant fact on the population history of the country. Sri Lanka was a place of living humans before Prince Vijay arrived in the country.  Anthropologically they were a group of humans, who had a root of Indians or mixed with Indian and Mongolians. Most probably they were with dark and light skin colours. Human diversity was a remarkable characteristic of the population and the human diversity has contributed to developing an assorted culture in Sri Lanka.  This situation can be seen in other countries of the world.

Another vital fact is that Indian population has contributed to maintaining the population level of Sri Lanka and the ethnic identity of the population of Sri Lanka was strongly influenced by Indian population and characteristics of them.  Indian people migrated to Sri Lanka legally or illegally and Indian people bought to Sri Lanka as mercenaries, slavers and for other purposes such as to participate in economic and military activities. The obvious information from historical evidence is that Sri Lankan authorities brought Indians to Sri Lanka to perform work, which was unwilling or unskilled to be performed by Sinhala people.  It has recorded that seven or seventy thousand people were brought to Sri Lanka during the reign of King Gajaba and people were brought by King Vijayaba too from India and settled them in seaside area.

During the British rule, many Indian labourers brought to work in the plantation industry and to work as coolies in public offices in urban areas.  Poor Indians illegally came to Sri Lanka and worked as tody tappers in a coconut plantation and later these illegal Indian migrants engaged in retail trades in rural areas. Many of Indians migrated to rural villages converted to Sinhala race by changing their names. The Illegal arrival of Indian migrants stopped mainly because of the JVP Insurrection in 1971.  There was a strong opposition to Indian expansionism by JVP leaders in 1971. In this way, human diversity of the population of Sri Lanka incurred from time to time.

Muslim people were also allowed to settle in Sri Lanka after Polonnaruwa era and some Christians in Assyrian Sect also were in Anuradhapura era, but religious diversity was not an issue in the history as the prime objectives of Christians arrived at the country was to engaged in business rather than religious missions. According to the experiences of Robert Knox, Sri Lanka’s king Rajasinghe 11 (Senkadagala Rajasinghe 1635 -1687) treated well Muslims and Christians, however, some Muslim persons’ behaviour appeared to be cunning or questionable to the Sinhala king and people. It also noted that Senerat praised Portuguese attacking to Muslim settlements. 

The Muslim religion was not an issue in Sri Lanka in the history except Sinhala Muslim conflict in early 1900, even in Europe it was not a problem.  The European history clearly indicates that Muslim religion contributed lots to the culture of Spain and there was no opposition from Christianity for Muslim activities as they were peaceful purposes.  There was not developing ideas against the expansion of Muslim religion in Europe.  However, the issues between Israel and Palestinians and wars in the Middle East supported to develop opinions against the Muslims in the world.  After the emerging of Islam fundamentalism and the activities of these fundamentalists in the name of religion also created a reasonable suspicion on the behaviour of Islam fundamentalists.  Many peace-loving religious communities have questioned the unacceptable behaviour of some Islam persons. Many Islam countries have attempted to use oil as an instrument of building economic and religious hegemony over oil using countries.  Developed nations in the west formulated strategies to successfully respond to oil hegemony, but developing countries tremendously suffered and the oil hegemony reasonably contributed to religious hate in many countries.  People in developing countries were not happy about the strategy. Naturally, the actions of oil-producing countries created an opposition to the Muslim community. 

Sri Lanka has a close relationship with Islam countries and Muslim people. After the oil crisis in 1973, Sri Lanka used a variety of economic strategies to deal with the economic disadvantages, which were incurred with the result of increasing oil prices. Economic strategies concerned with the diversification of export earning concentrating on invisible exports such as tourism and export of skills and knowledge. The Middle East oil producing countries became a good market for invisible exports and the country was to increase its export revenue to the US $ 8 billion. 

In this background, Sri Lanka and its people must be diplomatic when dealing with religious groups and religious mentality contains the priority of the life to religion.  This mentality relates to Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindus and other major religions. Nobody can specifically blame a religious community as all these people seem to be blind with religion rather than really thinking about religious philosophy which preaches life after the death that we cannot test like living humans.  Therefore, hating each other based on unknown matters reflects the unwise behaviour rather than logically thinking of human values.

The major reason to create hate between Sinhala Buddhist and Muslim people could be considered the misunderstanding of each other and the current problematic environment in the country created because the religious practice of Muslim religion is very closed process and non-Muslim have no idea about what is going on in Mosques but other religions in Sri Lanka are opened to outsiders. Christian population in Sri Lanka had not specific hate for Muslim people but the Easter Sunday attacks to Christian churches and tourist hotel has created a specific distance between Islam and Christianity. The personal laws in Sri Lanka, where has ample types of personal laws as Muslim Law, Upcountry Law, Buddhist Vihara and Property Law, and Thesawalamai law have created some suspicious feelings to Sinhala majority.  These personal laws purposed to ensure various rights of community groups and there is a common law, which is applicable when there is a problem in the application of personal laws.  Many Sinhala Buddhists consider that the Muslim community was given specific rights over the other communities in relation to marriage, school management, and various matters. However, this issue is a purely legal matter that needs to be resolved by legal professionals and relevant community representatives without discriminating people in other religion. The universal principle of the law is that all humans are equal before the law irrespective of race, religion, caste, belief or individual policies.  It is seen that in Western countries have not specific personal laws and the law means them is equal to everybody in the country,         because of a person is a Buddhist or, Sinhala or Christian or Tamil or Muslim the application of Law does not vary and law treat equally all and the method of application of law in Sri Lanka has created tremendous problems in Sri Lanka.

If people of Islam religion in Sri Lanka consider that they should be allowed to do whatever they wish over the other ethnic and religious groups, it is against the fundamental rights of other religious or ethnic groups that ensured in the constitution. No ethnic group or religion of the country can enjoy fundamental rights over others despite the constitutional clauses.  Because of Sri Lanka economy gained advantages from Muslim majority countries in the Middle East, it is not a valid reason to gain advantages over other ethnic and religious groups to discriminate Non-Muslim people in Sri Lanka.  Similarly, Buddhists also cannot work against people belonging to other religious and ethnic groups despite the constitutional safeguard for the prominence of Buddhism. 

We can see that America, UK, Australia, Canada, Russia, Europe and China punish Muslims and other religious people if they violate law and order or do wrong things against the humanity.  Middle East Muslim countries where to have a harsh punishment system do not safeguard wrongdoers because they are a Muslim and similar way if Muslim people do the wrong thing in Sri Lanka, the economic relationship of the country with Muslim countries would not be a reason to allow Muslims in Sri Lanka to do wrong things.  Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Christians in Sri Lanka must respect the law and order of the country.

It seems that misinformation in Sri Lanka travels through news media and social media in relation to the population and the trend of population growth.  Most of the information is fabricated by a variety of individuals and groups without using the statistics published by the government of Sri Lanka.  Although the official statistics on the population began in 1881, the human diversity of population has remained for centuries with a clear broadening of the diversity since the European rule beginning in 1505.

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